‘Sexting’ in the Garden State

The New Jersey Assembly approved a bill on Monday that will educate rather than prosecute first-time ‘sexters.’ (AP Photo)

With great technology, comes great responsibility. Or, for some people, the ability to send nude photos to all their friends.

According to nj.com, the New Jersey Assembly passed a bill Monday that will allow first-time “sexters” to participate in an educational program rather than face prosecution, granting teens a chance to avoid blemishes on their permanent records. The program seeks to instruct students “on how the uniqueness of the Internet can produce long-term and unforeseen consequences after photographs are posted and the connection between cyber-bullying and the posting of sexual images,” the article states. The bill is awaiting Senate approval.

Students who sent or received nude or partial nude pictures have been charged in the past, emerging with a criminal record. It seems fitting that the consequences be reduced, especially in cases when students are on the receiving end of such a message. You can’t control what you are sent. In my high school, the taboo texts were debasingly dubbed “Pokémon Cards.” Students collected nude photos of girl classmates like the cult cards. Romantic. I’m not sure what possessed these girls to send pictures of themselves to immature high school boys in the first place, nor do I know if they were confident that the photos would remain solely in the possession of those they originally entrusted. In any case, I’m not sure exactly how effective “educating” teenagers will be, if it will really make kids think twice before pushing send. If they want to “sext,” if they simply must, they probably will. And if teenagers don’t yet realize that the Internet is viral, they probably never will.

Technology is perpetually creating conundrums for authority, new behavior or activity that eventually demands banning, problems that were not possible without certain new gadgets. The issues can be relatively harmless. In second grade it was Tamagotchis. Middle school it was cell phones; high school it was iPods. However, more serious implications have emerged with social networking sites and the prevalence of smart phones, making bullying and harassment that much easier. The way we interact is constantly evolving — or devolving depending on how you look at it — and the abuses of the enabling technologies, no doubt, will grow more inventive.

In one respect, I am glad that the legislature is wising up to changes in societal dynamics by attempting to establish channels of communication rather than resorting immediately to condemnation and punishment. On the other hand, will a slap on the wrist and “lessons” really accomplish anything? I’m not saying that I want “sexter” offenders to have first-time crimes follow them for the rest of their lives, but I’m not confident in this new bill to change much. It’s a valiant effort, but I don’t think it will be transformative.